IT’S an important week at County Hall, with an extraordinary meeting of Cornwall Council’s cabinet tomorrow (Thursday) due to consider some truly scary numbers about its budget.
Following months of “consultation” (a whistle-stop tour of out of the way village halls at odd times of the day) the ruling Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition is recommending that council tax should go up by 1.97 per cent – not just next year, but every year, until 2019.
While Skipper does not enjoy paying council tax any more than anyone else, the money for essential public services has to come from somewhere and the proposed increase is below the current rate of inflation. The budget will therefore mean services must be reduced even further.
The budget report explains that on top of the £170 million “savings” (the word “cuts” is now politically incorrect) agreed in 2010, the council is now anticipating a further 15 per cent reduction in central government funding from 2015. The report also forecasts an immediate budget shortfall of £23.9 million next year, rising to £196 million in 2018.
These insights are truly supernatural, because unless the mandarins at County Hall know something denied to the rest of us, there is due to be a general election in or before May 2015 and central government policies therefore, potentially, might change.
Consider what the council used to do, but to a large extent doesn’t do any more: public toilets, leisure centres, housing, schools, and libraries which are just about clinging on but which now don’t open as frequently as they used to. The budget report says: “That the Council would consider any service delivery method that achieved the best outcomes and value for money rather than follow any set ideology, with no model ruled out from consideration.”
It is hard to avoid the impression that what is going on at the moment is little more than a huge Closing Down Sale, with the council effectively voting itself out of existence for any purpose other than holding meetings for its 123 members. Clearly, this sale must end before 2015 and is ideologically-driven. It is, apparently, what we voted for in May and is called “politics.” And obviously, one thing that must never be considered for reduction is the number of councillors.
Meanwhile, far away, in another part of the County Hall building, another group of councillors meet today (Wednesday) to consider an annual budget of £0.5 million to promote the Cornish language for the next three years.
Skipper was at most of the “consultation” meetings and does not recall one single voice, in any language, being raised to spend taxpayers’ money in this way.